Biden is signing onto Trump’s trillion-dollar plans for new nuclear weapons

Biden
President Joe Biden in an electric Ford F-150 lightning at the Ford Dearborn Development Center in Michigan, May 18, 2021.

  • President Joe Biden’s first defense budget, totalling $752.9 billion, continues a Trump effort to “modernize” US nuclear forces.
  • That modernization could cost upward of $1.5 trillion over 15 years, and Biden’s plan will only add to simmering debate about whether the US needs those nukes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For those anticipating a significant shift in national priorities in the wake of the huge increase in defense expenditures during the last administration – to the tune of some $100 billion over four years – President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2022 national defense budget is a major disappointment.

On Friday, the Biden administration submitted its fiscal year 2022 budget request – with a whopping $752.9 billion set aside for national defense, $715 billion of which is designated for the Pentagon. The proposed funding actually increases defense expenditures by some $11 billion from the Trump years.

Congressman Mark Pocan and Congresswoman Barbara Lee called the Biden defense budget “a failure that doesn’t reflect this country’s actual needs.” The joint Pocan-Lee statement, released last Friday, slammed Biden’s proposal, pointing out that “the defense spending increase” by itself is “1.5 times larger than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s entire $8.7 billion budget.”

Defense hawks, on the other hand, were as outspoken in their criticism, arguing that the Biden defense budget does not account for inflation, which means that, to keep pace, Pentagon spending should be ramped up to the tune of 3% to 5% annually.

“President Biden’s defense budget request is wholly inadequate – it’s nowhere near enough to give our service members the resources, equipment and training they need,” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla), and his House counterpart, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala), said in a statement. “It’s disingenuous to call this request an increase because it doesn’t even keep up with inflation – it’s a cut.”

Air Force Vandenberg Minuteman ICBM test
An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM launches during a test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, February 5, 2020.

The opposing positions are likely to be a source of contention in the weeks ahead, as Congress hammers out the details of who gets what.

Most disappointing for progressives is the Biden administration’s apparent endorsement of the Trump administration’s decision to spend big in “modernizing” America’s nuclear forces – a decision that could cost the nation upwards of $1.5 trillion over the next 15 years and as much as $634 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Congressional progressives describe the amount as a wholly unnecessary and extravagant expenditure. As an example, the Biden budget reflects a White House decision to double the amount the nation will spend on developing and deploying the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent to a proposed $2.6 billion from $1.4 billion.

The monies do not include upgrades to launch facility locations and nuclear laboratories, which would cost tens of billions more. The GBSD is intended to replace the 50-year-old Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile – the ICBM.

While the $2.6 billion figure might seem modest compared to the bulk of defense expenditures, the GBSD serves as a template for the nuclear modernization program (accounting for $27.7 billion in the Biden budget), while committing the United States to maintaining the nuclear triad – the three-legged mix of missile-launched, submarine-launched and bomber-launched nuclear weapons.

In total, an upgrade of the Minuteman III could cost upwards of $264 billion over the period of its development and deployment. Then, too, in addition to the funding for the increasingly controversial GBSD, the Biden defense budget includes expenditures for a new Columbia-class submarine, further development and deployment of the B-21 bomber, and a long-range standoff weapon.

F.E. Warren Air Force Base ICBM missile silo Wyoming
An airman gives a tour of ICBM training facilities on F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, July 22, 2012.

In the weeks preceding then ew budget’s release, Congressional progressives and their allies among anti-nuke NGOs had been gearing up for a fight over nuclear modernization, arguing that land-based nuclear missiles pose the most destabilizing part of the US arsenal – and that part of the triad that is most susceptible to an accidental launch.

These advocates argue that spending for the GBSD is unnecessary since the Minuteman III can be regularly upgraded over the next 10 years without adopting the budget-busting numbers proposed by the Trump administration.

That thinking is in line with a series of options detailed in an intriguing study by the Congressional Budget Office that would cut back the number of delivery systems and nuclear warheads over a period of 10 years – saving tens of billions of dollars – but without any erosion in nuclear deterrence.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is one of those likely to lead the charge against the nuclear modernization program, particularly given her focus on it during the Senate’s February confirmation hearings for Dr. Kathleen Hicks to be deputy secretary of defense.

“I know that you believe in a safe, and secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent, but we’re going to spend $44.5 billion on nuclear weapons this year, which is more than the entire budget for the State Department and foreign operations accounts,” Warren said to Hicks back in February. “Will you commit that your review will not simply be a rubber stamp of our current nuclear strategy, but that you really will examine and re-question the core assumptions that underpin it?”

Hicks assured Warren that she would. “Absolutely, senator,” she responded.

Now, in the wake of President Biden’s seeming endorsement of a large portion of the previous administration’s nuclear modernization program, that reassurance is very much in doubt, despite Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s public testimony last week before a Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that the Biden team will be conducting its own review in the months ahead.

icbm missile silo
A missile silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base, July 17, 2007.

In all of this, there is a sense that both the White House and Pentagon are attempting to downplay just how similar the Biden administration’s defense budget is to the most recent defense budget proposed by Donald Trump.

The strategy included a last-minute postponement of the budget’s release until late in the day on the Friday before Memorial Day (“not an accident,” as one senior Pentagon civilian told Responsible Statecraft).

It was a purposeful soft-pedaling of the dollar amount for defense in comparison with other administration priorities and heavy-handed public statements that emphasized Biden’s commitment to “innovation,” “advanced capability enablers,” and “cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technologies” (like microelectronics, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, machine learning, 5G networking).

It was a purposeful, if transparent, sleight-of-hand, as if the Biden team wasn’t actually committed to buying weapons, but rather to a “visionary” and “forward-leaning posture,” as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described it.

Few, it seems, were fooled: “At a time when the greatest challenges to human lives and livelihoods stem from threats like pandemics and climate change, sustaining Pentagon spending at over three quarters of a trillion dollars a year is both bad budgeting and bad security policy,” the Center for International Policy’s William Hartung said.

Hartung’s criticism will be echoed in the weeks ahead, as the Biden defense budget becomes an increasing focus for a badly divided Congress.

While there’s much for both the left and the right to attack, the Biden administration’s seeming unwillingness to take on the nuclear weapons lobby will likely mark the most contentious issue for both sides. It will be round one of a Congressional donnybrook over whether the United States is protected by buying, building and fielding more nuclear weapons – or placed at increasing risk.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The US Army only ever fired one nuclear artillery shell from its ‘Atomic Annie’ cannon, and this is what it looked like

Image of the May 25, 1953 test-firing of an M65 atomic cannon.
Image of the May 25, 1953 test-firing of an M65 atomic cannon.

  • The US Army fired its atomic cannon for the first and last time 68 years ago.
  • The cannon, initially named “Able Annie,” was later renamed “Atomic Annie.”
  • During the May 25, 1953 test, the cannon fired a nuclear shell that unleashed a 15-kiloton blast.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Army successfully test-fired an atomic cannon exactly 68 years ago Tuesday. It was the first and only time the US military ever fired a nuclear weapon from a conventional cannon, according to the Army.

During the Cold War, the US military developed many different ways to unleash nuclear destruction on an enemy, including a towed artillery piece built in the early 1950s that could fire a nuclear round packed with as much explosive power as the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima less than a decade earlier.

The Army’s M65 280 mm Motorized Heavy Gun, the largest mobile artillery piece the US ever built, was based on Nazi Germany’s Krupp K5 heavy railway gun, a devastating indirect-fire weapon Allied service members fighting in Italy during World War II named “Anzio Annie.”

The M65 "Atomic Annie," a 280mm nuclear-capable cannon, sits on a concrete slab at Fort Lee
The M65 “Atomic Annie,” a 280mm nuclear-capable cannon, sits on a concrete slab at Fort Lee, where it currently resides.

Weighing roughly 85 tons, the M65 cannon required two transporter trucks to move. In 1953, the US military moved two of these cannons by rail from Fort Sill, Oklahoma to a test site in Nevada, where crews used one to fire a nuclear artillery round in the first and last test of the cannon’s capabilities.

On May 25, 1953, just a few months after an M65 cannon made a very public debut in the inaugural parade for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Army crews used a cannon named “Able Annie,” one of only 20 M65 guns ever made, to fire a nuclear artillery shell.

The atomic cannon test, codenamed Grable, was the tenth in the Operation Upshot-Knothole nuclear weapons test series but the only one involving nuclear artillery. The cannon, which cost $800,000, performed as expected.

About 19 seconds after the shell was fired at 8:31 am, it exploded just under 8 miles away at a low-burst height of about 520 feet.

“The shell that could wipe out an enemy division exploded on target with a roaring violence equal to 15,000 tons of TNT,” a historical marker at Fort Sill reads.

With that shot, “Able Annie” became “Atomic Annie.” Though the name applies to one gun, it has been used to refer to M65 cannons in general.

The other M65 cannon that was present for the testing in Nevada but never fired was a backup cannon named “Sad Sack,” a weapon that has had a rather uneventful history compared to Atomic Annie.

After the testing wrapped up, Sad Sack was supposed to be sent to an operational unit for overseas deployment while Atomic Annie was to return to Fort Sill, but during the transport process, the two cannons were accidentally switched.

This error was not discovered for 10 years. Soldiers preparing the big cannon for an event marking the tenth anniversary of the Grable test at Fort Sill realized that the serial numbers did not match that of Atomic Annie, the whereabouts of which were unknown to most at the time.

"Atomic Annie" at Fort Lee
“Atomic Annie” at Fort Lee

When the Army tried to find “Atomic Annie,” which was briefly renamed “AWOL Annie” during the search, it was a bit of challenge because the atomic artillery pieces had been deployed across Europe and Asia, and their specific locations were classified to the point that only a limited number of people actually knew exactly where they were.

The legendary atomic cannon was eventually found in Germany and retrieved. It returned to Fort Sill in 1964, and Sad Sack was given to the Smithsonian, according to the Army.

Due to the rapid pace of nuclear-weapons development during the Cold War, the M65 cannons like “Atomic Annie” were obsolete within a decade of their initial fielding. The M65, which was fielded to deliver a devastating nuclear strike behind enemy lines, was withdrawn from service in 1963, just 10 years after the first and only shot.

In 2017, the Atomic Annie cannon was moved to Fort Lee in Virginia, where it joined another “Annie,” one of the captured German K5 railway guns. The massive M65 cannon is part of an educational and historical display at the installation’s new Ordnance Training Support Facility.

Read the original article on Business Insider

US Air Force aborts the planned test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile for unexplained reasons

icbm minuteman
An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM during a test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, August 2, 2017.

  • The US Air Force had to abort a planned test launch of one of its Minuteman III ICBMs.
  • The service said a “ground abort” was experienced prior to launch but didn’t go into specifics.
  • The abort comes amid a debate about the nuclear modernization and the future of the ICBM force.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Air Force aborted the planned test launch of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, Air Force Global Strike Command said in a statement Wednesday.

The launch was scheduled for sometime between 12:15 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but it “experienced a ground abort prior to launch,” the Air Force said.

The service did not go into detail on the specifics, only noting in its brief statement that “the cause of the ground abort is currently under investigation” and that Global Strike Command is “assessing the potential to reschedule the launch.”

The US military’s roughly 400 silo-based LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBMs are the land-based leg of the US nuclear triad, which also includes nuclear-capable bombers and nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines.

The Air Force conducts regular test launches to ensure that weapons, respective launch systems, and related personnel remain reliable should the US find itself in a nuclear crisis.

Problems during the testing are rare, but they do happen. In 2018, for example, the US military was forced to terminate an unarmed ICBM in flight after an anomaly created an “unsafe flight condition.”

The latest issue, whatever it may be, comes amid a debate over efforts to modernize America’s ICBM force, an expensive endeavor that has received some pushback from progressive politicians and arms control advocates.

The US military, in partnership with major defense contractor Northrop Grumman, aims to replace the existing intercontinental ballistic missiles with new ICBMs under the Ground-Based Strategic Defense (GBSD) program, which could have a total cost of several hundred billion dollars.

Minuteman ICBMs have been in service since the early 1960s, and US military leaders argue that without modernization, the US runs the risk of its missiles eventually not working at all.

Adm. Charles Richard, who currently leads US Strategic Command, told lawmakers in April that he “cannot deter with the leftovers of the Cold War forever,” arguing that the ICBM force is past the point of upgrade and needs to be replaced.

Given the lack of clarity surrounding the unexpected abort of Wednesday’s test launch, it is unclear what impact, if any, this could have on the ongoing debate surrounding nuclear modernization efforts and the future of the ICBM force.

Read the original article on Business Insider

7 times the military lost nukes – and 4 times it never found them

US nuclear weapons
An ICBM launch-control facility outside Minot, North Dakota.

The military makes a big deal out of when a rifle goes missing, not to mention when a nuke disappears.

In spite of the fact the program is designed to be “zero defect,” here are seven examples of doomsday devices wandering off (including a few where they never came back):

1. 1956: B-47 disappears with two nuclear capsules

B 47
A B-47.

The first story on the list is also one of the most mysterious since no signs of the wreckage, weapons, or crew have ever been found.

A B-47 Stratojet with two nuclear weapons took off from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida on March 10, 1956 headed to Morocco. It was scheduled for two midair refuelings but failed to appear for the second. An international search team found nothing. The US military eventually called off the search.

2. 1958: Damaged bomber jettisons nuke near Tybee Island, Georgia

On February 5, 1958 B-47 bombers left Florida with nuclear weapons on a training mission simulating the bombing of a Russian city and the evasion of interceptors afterwards. Over the coast of Georgia a bomber and interceptor collided.

The interceptor pilot ejected, and the bomber crew attempted to land with the bomb but failed. They jettisoned the bomb over the ocean before landing safely.

Since the plutonium pits were changed for lead pits used during training, the missing bomb has only a subcritical mass of uranium-235 and cannot cause a nuclear detonation.

3. 1961: Two nuclear bombs nearly turn North Carolina into a bay

Air Force B-52 bomber
A US Air Force B-52 bomber in 1957.

On January 24, 1961, a B-52 carrying two Mark 39 bombs, each 253 times as strong as the Little Boy bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, broke apart in a storm and dropped both of its bombs.

One survivor of the crash, the pilot, was able to alert the Air Force to the incident. The first bomb was found hanging by a parachute from a tree, standing with the nose of the weapon against the ground. It had gone through six of the seven necessary steps to detonate. Luckily, it’s safe/arm switch, known for failing, had stayed in the proper position and the bomb landed safely.

“You might now have a very large Bay of North Carolina if that thing had gone off,” Jack Revelle, who was in charge of locating and removing the weapons, said. The other bomb’s switch did move to the “Arm” position but, for reasons no one knows, it still failed to detonate, saving tens of thousands of lives.

4. 1965: Loss of Navy plane, pilot, and B43 nuclear bomb

A Navy A-4 Skyhawk was being moved aboard the USS Ticonderoga during a military exercise December 5, 1965 when it rolled off its elevator with a pilot and a B43 nuclear weapon loaded. The plane sank quickly into waters 16,000 feet deep.

The status of the weapon is still unknown. The pressures at that depth may be enough to detonate the weapon and the waters were so deep that it would’ve been hard to detect. If the weapon is still intact, it would be nearly impossible to find as very few vessels can make it down that far.

5. 1966: B-52 crashes into KC-135, four thermonuclear bombs are released over Spain

US Air Force nuclear H bomb radioactive contamination Spain
A US soldier looks through material found after a B-52 bomber collided with a tanker plane during aerial refueling, January 17, 1966.

On January 17, 1966 a B-52 was approaching a KC-135 for refueling when the bomber struck the tanker, igniting a fireball that killed the crew of the KC-135 and three men on the B-52.

The plane and its four B28 thermonuclear bombs fell near a small fishing village in Spain, Palomares. Three were recovered in the first 24 hours after the crash. One had landed safely while two had experienced detonations of their conventional explosives. The explosions ignited and scattered the plutonium in the missiles, contaminating two square kilometers.

The fourth bomb was sighted plunging into the ocean by a fisherman. Despite the eyewitness account, it took the Navy nearly 100 days to locate and retrieve the weapon.

6. 1968: B-52 crashes and a weapon is lost under the Arctic ice

Like the Palomares crash, the January 21 crash of a B-52 resulted in four B28 bombs being released. This time it was over Greenland and at least three of the bombs broke apart.

Investigators recovered most of these components before realizing they had found nothing of the fourth bomb. A blackened patch of ice was identified with parachute shroud lines frozen within it.

Recovery crew speculated that either the primary or secondary stage of the bomb began burning after the crash and melted the ice. The rest of the bomb then plunged through the Arctic water and sank. The weapon is still missing, presumed irrecoverable.

7. 1968: The sinking of the USS Scorpion

USS Scorpion
USS Scorpion.

The USS Scorpion, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, was declared presumed lost on June 5, 1968. The loss was especially troubling for the Navy since the boat had been following a Russian research group just before its disappearance.

At the time it was lost, the Scorpion was carrying two Mark 45 antisubmarine torpedoes (ASTOR). The wreckage would not be found until October 1968. The USS Scorpion is still on the floor of the Atlantic under 3,000 meters of water and the cause of the sinking remains unknown. The torpedo room appears to be intact with the two nuclear torpedoes in position, but the Navy can’t tell for sure.

Recovery of the torpedoes would be extremely challenging, so the Navy monitors radiation levels in the area instead. So far, there has been no signs of leakage from torpedoes or the reactor.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Top nuclear commander says he will push to put bombers back on alert if US gets rid of its ICBMs

B-52H Stratofortresses from the 2nd Bomb Wing line up on the runway as part of a readiness exercise at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.
B-52H bombers on the runway during a readiness exercise at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

  • The head of STRATCOM said he would put bombers on alert if the ICBM leg of the triad goes away.
  • His comments come as some in Congress question the need for nuclear modernization spending.
  • The STRATCOM commander says he needs a modern ICBM force, not “leftovers of the Cold War.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

America’s top nuclear commander told lawmakers Tuesday that he would push to put US nuclear-capable bombers on alert if the military lost its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

As some lawmakers question the need to invest in nuclear modernization programs like the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, a replacement for the aging Minuteman III ICBM force, the head of US Strategic Command is arguing in favor of moving forward with the modernization plans and against cutting the ICBM force.

STRATCOM commander Adm. Charles Richard has argued previously that a failure to modernize and replace what the US has now is essentially disarmament in the face of a growing threat. Russia has its own nuclear triad, and China is developing a functional triad.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Richard said that if the ICBM leg of the US nuclear triad were to be abandoned, then the bomber force would have to take its place as an always-ready nuclear deterrent.

“What is not often recognized is that we don’t have a triad day-to-day,” Richard said. “The bombers are not available to us. We chose to take them off alert as a type of peace dividend after the Cold War. Day-to-day, what you have is basically a dyad.”

The three legs of the US nuclear triad are the silo-based ICBMs, ballistic-missile submarines, and bombers, all of which are overseen by STRATCOM. All are options, but only the submarines and the ICBMs are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Richard argued that the “basic design criteria in the triad is that you cannot allow a failure of any one leg of the triad to prevent you from being able to do everything the president has ordered you to do.”

“If you don’t have intercontinental ballistic missiles, we can’t meet that criteria,” the admiral said, adding, “You are completely dependent on the submarine leg, and I’ve already told the secretary of defense that under those conditions I would request to re-alert the bombers.”

Richard stressed Tuesday that without funding for programs like the GBSD – the research and development of which is expected to cost more than $85 billion, with a total life-cycle cost in the hundreds of billions – the US runs the risk of its ICBMs eventually “not working at all.” He said that he simply “cannot deter with the leftovers of the Cold War forever.”

Putting the strategic bomber force back on alert, meaning loaded and ready for an immediate nuclear strike should the order come, would be a return to practices that were common decades ago during the Cold War.

The idea of putting bombers back on alert has come up before, though not in the context of a potential loss of a leg of the nuclear triad.

In 2017, Defense One reported that the Air Force was preparing to put the nuclear bombers back on 24-hour alert. That change, however, was never actually made.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Biden is trying to derail China’s effort to build the world’s fastest supercomputer needed for unstoppable missiles

China hypersonic missiles
Military vehicles carry DF-17 missiles, a weapon armed with a hypersonic glide vehicle, during an October 1, 2019 military parade in Beijing.

  • The US added seven China supercomputer entities to its economic blacklist.
  • China is using supercomputers to speed up the development of hypersonic (unstoppable) missiles.
  • The US is in a global arms race with China and Russia to build the most advanced hypersonic missile.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Biden administration is taking steps to undermine China’s effort to build the world’s fastest supercomputer necessary for the development of advanced weapons – including nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles.

Seven Chinese firms and government labs were placed under export controls by the Biden administration on Thursday due to their ties to China’s supercomputer development in relation to national security concerns. This means they will not be able to use technology that originated in the US without a Commerce Department license.

“These are parties that are acting in ways that are contrary to our national security interests,” a senior Commerce Department official told the Washington Post. “This is really about not having US items contribute to China’s advancement of its military capabilities.”

The firms and labs impacted include: Tianjin Phytium Information Technology (also known as Phytium), Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center, Sunway Microelectronics, the National Supercomputing Center Jinan, the National Supercomputing Center Shenzhen, the National Supercomputing Center Wuxi, and the National Supercomputing Center Zhengzhou.

The supercomputer at China’s largest aerodynamics research complex, where hypersonics weapons research is underway, has used Phytium microprocessors, according to the Post. Phytium works with American software design companies, the Post said, and it will now have to get a license that’s difficult to obtain in order to keep doing business with the Chinese firm.

The US is in a global arms race with China and Russia to build hypersonic missiles, which are capable of traveling at least five times the speed of sound and designed to be virtually unstoppable. Hypersonic missiles are made to be both extraodinarily fast and maneuverable in order to evade all existing missile defense systems. Supercomputers able of rapidly performing complex calculations aid in the development of such advanced weapons.

China wants to build the first exascale computer, capable of a million trillion calculations per second, which would give it a major advantage in the race to build the most advanced hypersonic missile.

“Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many – perhaps almost all – modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement regarding the Biden administration’s economic blacklisting of the seven Chinese supercomputer entitites.

“The Department of Commerce will use the full extent of its authorities to prevent China from leveraging US technologies to support these destabilizing military modernization efforts,” Raimondo added.

President Joe Biden has made competing with China a top foreign policy priority, which has included an emphasis on investing in research and development to counter the China’s advancements in technology and infrastructure. During a speech on his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal on Thusday, Biden warned that China is “racing ahead” of the US.

“Do you think China is waiting around to invest in its digital infrastructure or research and development? I promise you, they are not waiting,” Biden said. “But they are counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited, and too divided to keep up the pace.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

The Biden administration has been quietly trying to reach out to North Korea, but keeps getting ignored

biden kim jong un
A composite image of President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

  • Biden’s administration has been trying to contact North Korea since mid-February, reports say.
  • But North Korea has not responded to any of those attempts to talk, a US official said.
  • Biden has not yet shared his policy on North Korea, which is still developing nuclear weapons.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been trying to contact North Korea via several channels over the past month, but is receiving no response, Reuters, CNN, and the Associated Press reported, all citing a senior administration official.

“To reduce the risks of escalation, we reached out to the North Korean government through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York,” the official said, according to CNN, referring to North Korea’s mission to the United Nations.

“To date, we have not received any response from Pyongyang,” the official said, per the reports.

The official added that the US and North Korea had had no “active dialogue” for over a year, “despite multiple attempts by the US to engage.”

Neither report gave details on what the attempts to contact North Korea entailed or what level of contact the Biden administration wants to have with North Korea. Insider has contacted the White House for comment.

However, the official told CNN that the administration is reviewing the US policy toward North Korea,” including evaluation of all available options to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea to its neighbors and the broader international community.”

Biden has not shared his North Korea policy since taking office on January 20.

Reports of the attempted US outreach comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin travel to Japan and South Korea – North Korea’s neighbors – for four days of meetings. They plan to focus discussions on North Korea’s nuclear challenge as well as how to deal with China, according to the AP.

North Korea soldiers troops parade
North Korea celebrates the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, in this image released by North Korea’s Central News Agency on October 10, 2020.

Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, broke with decades of American tradition to become the first sitting US president to meet North Korea’s leader.

Trump met with Kim Jong Un three times during his tenure: once in Singapore, once in Vietnam, and once at the Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea. The last meeting was Trump’s idea, and his top advisors said it had caught them by surprise.

Trump’s meetings with Kim aimed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Trump repeatedly touted his relationship with Kim as a foreign-policy win. But those meetings yielded few positive results, as North Korea retains its nuclear arsenal and continues development.

A confidential UN report seen by Reuters last month said that North Korea maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programs through 2020, despite international sanctions forbidding it. The report also said that North Korean hackers stole $316 million in 2020 alone to fund nuclear-weapons development.

Satellite imagery published by CNN early this month also showed that North Korea had been trying to hide a facility that US intelligence agencies believe is a store for nuclear weapons.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Here’s where the ‘nuclear football’ came from and why it follows US presidents wherever they go

A US military officer carrying the "nuclear football"
A US military officer carrying the “nuclear football”

  • Every American president since Eisenhower has been followed by a bag known as the “nuclear football.”
  • The briefcase was born from the Cold War belief the president needs to be able to order a launch in minutes.
  • Much of the briefcase’s contents are highly classified, but over its decades-long history, a lot has been learned.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Wherever a US president goes, a military aide carrying a heavy black briefcase follows. The case is always close by, just in case the president needs to unleash the devastating and destructive power of the US nuclear arsenal while out of the White House.

Every US president since Harry Truman, the only leader of a nuclear-armed state to authorize the use of nuclear force against an enemy, has had absolute authority over the use of nuclear weapons, and the “nuclear football” has been an important part of that presidential power for decades.

The briefcase is officially known as the president’s emergency satchel, but it is more commonly called the “nuclear football” or simply the “football.” The case starts following the president the moment they take the oath of office.

The “football” exists for two reasons, Stephen Schwartz, a nonresident senior fellow at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and an expert on the satchel, told Insider recently.

One, the briefcase “is the physical representation of the presidential authority” to order the use of nuclear weaponry, Schwartz said. Two, it exists because “we’ve been afraid that a surprise nuclear attack could catch us off guard and preclude any sort of retaliation.”

Schwartz explained that the strategic thinking behind the “football” is that “if you have the ability for the president to act quickly, you can forestall that and therein deter that from ever happening.”

‘Atomic weapons in an emergency’

A White House military aide carries the nuclear "football" as he leaves the White House
A White House military aide carries the nuclear “football” as he leaves the White House

Born from Cold War fears that the Soviet Union might launch a surprise attack that could cripple the critical US nuclear capabilities were the president unable to launch an immediate retaliatory strike, the “nuclear football” has been around since the Eisenhower administration.

The “football” was invented by Capt. Edward “Ned” Beach, Jr., a submarine officer who served as a naval aide to Dwight Eisenhower during his presidency, according to a 1991 Newsweek article.

The bag has been handed off from presidency to presidency, and every incoming president since Eisenhower peacefully transferred power to John F. Kennedy has been briefed on their nuclear responsibilities and the “nuclear football” prior to or upon taking office.

The day before Kennedy’s inauguration, Army Brig. Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, a defense liaison to the president, and Eisenhower met with the president-elect and “showed Mr. Kennedy the ‘satchel’ and the book of emergency documents therein,” a memo from Jan. 25, 1961 reads.

The memo says that the general “also told him of the extra document … included in the satchel which would authorize the use of atomic weapons in an emergency.”

The first known photograph of the briefcase, which can be seen in the first black-and-white photo in the collection of “football” photos below, was taken on May 10, 1963, when Kennedy traveled to Hyannis Port, Massachusetts to meet the Canadian prime minister.

Army Maj. Gen. Chester Clifton was tasked with carrying the satchel that day, just months before the president’s life suddenly and violently ended in November 1963.

Nicknamed the ‘football’

It is unclear where exactly the nickname “football” came from, but one of the first known public appearances of this term was in a November 1965 article by Associated Press reporter Bob Horton on Kennedy’s death two years earlier and the transfer of the presidential nuclear command authority.

Horton wrote that as Kennedy was dying at a hospital in Dallas, Texas after being shot, Ira Gearhart, a US Army warrant officer, “sat outside in the lobby unobtrusively guarding a brown leather briefcase someone had nicknamed the ‘football.'”

When Kennedy died, the man “picked up the case and strode past the emergency room desk into a surgery suite where, behind drawn shades, sat Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson,” Horton wrote, explaining that “with those few steps came the first real, if not formal, transfer of power.”

As for why someone nicknamed the president’s emergency satchel the “football,” a 2005 AP report on the briefcase said that the nickname “football” came about in response to the first nuclear war plan, or Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), code-named “dropkick.”

Smithsonian Magazine reported the same in 2014, explaining that the concept was that a “football” was required to execute a “dropkick.” This explanation was attributed to former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

William Burr, an analyst with the National Security Archive at George Washington University, wrote in 2018 that this “may be the case, but no evidence supports this claim.” He argued that there is no evidence of a US war plan code-named “dropkick.”

Burr further explained that the only reference to “dropkick” that he has been able to find is in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. There were, however, real plans code-named “dropshot” and “offtackle,” the latter being a football term.

Regardless of where the nickname came from, it stuck, and people continue to call the briefcase the “football” today. That even includes the aides that carry the case and US presidents who might need to use it.

‘Chemodanchik’

The aide with the briefcase is the president’s constant companion, not only at home, but also overseas as well. During the later years of the Cold War, the briefcase was photographed in Red Square in Moscow. It is one among many places the case has traveled.

Russian leaders are accompanied by a briefcase similar in function to the American “nuclear football.” The case, which is an important part of the command and control of Russia’s nuclear forces, is known as the “cheget” or more generally “chemodanchik.”

The Russian briefcase was created during the tense early 1980s, when the Soviets were becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of a US nuclear strike that would require immediate retaliation, according to a 1998 Washington Post report.

US and Russian leaders have talked about the possibility of eliminating the nuclear briefcases, though nothing has ever come of those discussions.

The issue was raised repeatedly during meetings between Bill Clinton and his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, declassified confidential memos on the meetings show.

“Let us say we get rid of the nuclear footballs,” Yeltsin remarked during a 1994 meeting. Yeltsin said that it was “too much” to have a military aide “drag around one of these briefcases.” Clinton said he would need to think about it, telling Yeltsin he hadn’t given the matter any thought.

The Russian president brought this proposal up again in 1997, asking, “What if we were to give up having to have our finger next to the button all the time?” Yeltsin told Clinton that “it is not necessary for us to carry the chemodanchik.”

“I’ll have to think about this,” Clinton replied. “All we carry, of course, are the codes and the secure phone.”

There is a little bit more to the contents of the “football” than Clinton’s short response during that meeting suggests. Reports from military aides and others throughout its history have offered some insight into what is in the bag. The specifics are classified though.

A US military aide carries the "president's emergency satchel."
A US military aide carries the “president’s emergency satchel,” also known as the “nuclear football.”

‘Things in the Football’

Warren “Bill” Gulley, the former director of the White House Military Office that oversees the “nuclear football,” wrote in his 1980 book Breaking Cover that “there are four things in the Football.”

These things include “the Black Book containing the retaliatory options, a book listing classified site locations, a manila folder with eight or ten pages stapled together giving a description of procedures for the Emergency Broadcast System, and a three-by-five inch card with authentication codes.”

The briefcase is also suspected to contain communications tools because what appears to be an antenna is visible in some photos of the “football.”

The black book in the briefcase explains US nuclear war plans, previously called SIOPs but later renamed, and contains a collection of pre-approved preemptive or retaliatory strike options the president could choose from in an emergency.

A simplified summary of the nuclear war plans and strike options was added to the briefcase during the Carter administration at the request of the president, according to the AP.

The simplified summary has been described as somewhat cartoonish. A former military aide who carried the “football” said it is a little bit like “a Denny’s breakfast menu.”

Gulley, the AP reported, described the options as “Rare, Medium, or Well Done.” It is unclear if this remains unchanged.

The card with the authentication codes, which are not the same as the launch codes maintained by the US military, is known as the “biscuit,” and it is an important part of the process a president would go through to order a nuclear strike.

If the president decided to use nuclear weapons, the “football” would be opened, and the president would be presented with strike options. The commander in chief may choose to consult with senior advisors and military leaders before proceeding, but that is not a requirement.

Using the “biscuit,” the president would identify himself to a military official in the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, who would then receive and transmit strike orders once it was clear that the nuclear strike orders were coming from the commander in chief.

Within just a few minutes, nuclear weapons aboard strategic bombers or carried by land-based or submarine-launched missiles would be in the air.

While it may have once been carried inside the “football,” presidents later began carrying the “biscuit” on their person. That development has led to more than one alarming mishap.

An Air Force aide carries the 'nuclear football' out of the White House as he accompanies President Joe Biden
An Air Force aide carries the ‘nuclear football’ out of the White House as he accompanies President Joe Biden

‘Nothing going wrong’

Carter accidentally left his “biscuit” in a suit that he sent to the dry cleaner, the FBI took possession of Ronald Reagan’s card after agents seized his clothes at the hospital following an attempt on his life, and Clinton is said to have lost his card. It was missing for months before anyone knew.

Like the “biscuit,” the “football” has also been fumbled quite a few times.

During Gerald Ford’s presidency, the “football” was mistakenly left on Air Force One, and Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton all found themselves separated from the aide carrying the briefcase at one point or another.

None of these incidents “tremendously imperiled presidential command and control,” Schwartz told Insider, “but they do point out the fact that when you have one person in charge of all this, it does put a premium on everything working and nothing going wrong.”

During the Trump administration, there were at least two incidents involving the “nuclear football.”

The first happened when Donald Trump visited Beijing in November 2017 and involved a scuffle between US officials and Chinese security over the briefcase.

Chinese security officials attempted to prevent the military aide carrying the satchel from following the president into the Great Hall of the People, setting off a series of events that ultimately led to a physical altercation between the Secret Service and Chinese security personnel, Axios reported at the time. Beijing apologized for the unpleasant exchange.

‘An unstable president’

Another incident involving the “football” occurred near the end of Trump’s presidency on Jan. 6, 2020, when a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol, where a backup “nuclear football” was following Vice President Mike Pence.

The practice of giving a backup “nuclear football” to the vice president started under Eisenhower, who was concerned about his health after he suffered a heart attack. Over time, it became standard practice, Fred Kaplan, the author of The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, explained in a recent Slate article.

During the Capitol riots, the mob, some members of which were shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” after Trump criticized him for not pushing to overturn the election, came within 100 feet of Pence and the “football.”

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for inciting the deadly riots at the Capitol, which raised questions about the dangers of giving a potentially unhinged president sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.

Even as he faced impeachment for the second time in his presidency, Trump maintained control of the “nuclear football” and the authority to use nuclear weapons.

The troubling situation moved Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to call the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about options to restrict this presidential power for Trump, who she called “an unstable president.”

The scene was reminiscent of when Richard Nixon, who was depressed and drinking heavily in the face of impeachment, sparked fears among members of his own Cabinet and some members of Congress that he might order a nuclear strike and kill millions.

But, just as it did with Nixon, Trump’s presidency passed without a nuclear catastrophe. At noon on Jan. 20, 2020, the “nuclear football” began following President Joe Biden.

Though there were some questions beforehand about how the transfer would take place given Trump’s decision to not attend his successor’s inauguration, the transfer of the briefcase and presidential nuclear command and control authority occurred seamlessly that day.

Biden currently has control of the “football” and nuclear command authority, but some in Congress are pushing to change the status quo that allows him to unilaterally order nuclear attacks at a moment’s notice.

Just a few days after Biden took office, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Secretary of Defense William Perry wrote in an op-ed published by USA Today that “no president should have unilateral power to use nuclear weapons.” 

Then, a little over a month into Biden’s presidency, dozens of House Democrats led by California Reps. Ted Lieu and Jimmy Panetta sent him a letter asking him to consider changing US nuclear policy, specifically the president’s sole nuclear strike authority, and creating checks and balances in the system.

The debate over the president’s authority to order the use of nuclear weapons has come and gone many times. It is unclear what decisions, if any, Biden will make on nuclear policy, but for the time being at least, wherever the president goes, the “nuclear football” will follow.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Green Light HALO
A Green Light operator conducting a High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jump with the MK54 SADM.

  • During the Cold War, military planners wanted nuclear weapons they could use without sparking an all-out nuclear war.
  • That led to the development of tactical nuclear weapons for use against military or military-related targets.
  • Teams of Army Green Berets were trained to carry those nukes to their targets, which they saw as a one-way mission.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Throughout the Cold War, as the nuclear arms race became more frantic, a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union remained a major concern.

With intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-dropped bombs, both countries had several options when it came to nuclear warfare.

But the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II made clear the destructive capability of nuclear arms and the danger of a full-blown nuclear conflict.

As a result, US strategists sought ways to use nuclear weapons without triggering an all-out nuclear war.

The tactical nuclear option

Davy Crockett Bomb mini nuke nuclear
An M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon mounted to a recoilless rifle at Aberdeen Proving Ground, March 1961.

In the 1950s, the US military came up with the tactical nuclear option, using weapons with a lower yield and range than their strategic counterparts.

These weapons would be used on the battlefield or against a military-related target to gain an operational advantage. For example, the Air Force could drop a tactical nuclear bomb on a Soviet division invading Poland to stop its advance without triggering a disproportionate response – such as a nuclear attack on New York City.

There were two types of tactical nuclear munitions: The Medium Atomic Demolition Munition (MADM) had a medium-yield payload and required several troops to carry it. The Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) had a low-yield payload but could be carried by one soldier.

The order to use tactical nuclear weapons would still have to come from both political and military authorities. SADMs were subject to the same command-and-control procedures as other tactical nuclear weapons and were meant to be used only if there were no other means of creating the desired effect.

Tactical nuclear weapons came in several forms, including artillery shells, gravity bombs, short-range missiles, and even landmines. But perhaps the most interesting iteration was the “backpack nuke,” which was to be carried by Army Special Forces operators.

Green Light Teams

Davy Crockett nuclear bomb
US officials with an M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon. It used one of the smallest nuclear warheads ever developed by the US.

Specially trained Green Berets were assigned to Green Light Teams. Their purpose was to clandestinely deploy in NATO or Warsaw Pact countries and detonate their SADM in a conflict with the Soviets. The Pentagon later included North Korea and Iran on the target list.

Green Light teams’ main targets were tunnels, major bridges, mountain passes, dams, canals, ports, major railroad hubs, oil facilities, water-plant factories, and underground storage or operations facilities.

In other words, SADMs were intended to either slow down the enemy by destroying or significantly altering the landscape or to target the logistical, communications, and operations hubs that are vital to an army, especially during offensive operations.

Green Light teams primarily carried the MK-54 SADM. Nicknamed the “Monkey” or “Pig,” the device weighed almost 60 pounds and could fit in a large rucksack.

In each team, there was a chief operator who was primarily responsible for the activation of the SADM. He and other members of the team held the codes required to activate the bomb.

Like every Green Beret team, Green Light teams were trained in various insertion methods, including parachuting – both static-line and military free-fall – skiing, and combat diving.

Free-falling was probably the most realistic insertion method other than ground infiltration, but doing it with the device was tough.

During parachute insertions, the chief operator seldom got to jump with the device because it had a high probability of injury for the jumper, and the chief operator was key to mission success.

An operator would have to strap the SADM between his legs like a rucksack, but the device would work against him as he tried to stabilize in the air before deploying his parachute. Even in static-line parachuting, when the ripcord is hooked to the plane, there would still be issues.

Paratroopers will release their rucksacks or other heavy cargo attached to them via a line moments before landing to prevent injuries. But the SADM tended to get stuck between the jumper’s feet in the crucial seconds before landing, resulting in several sprained ankles and broken legs.

Everything even closely associated with Green Light teams was top secret, and the seriousness of the mission followed Green Light operators outside work. They were instructed to travel only on US airliners and never to fly above a communist country in case the plane had to make an emergency landing, which could lead to them being held by local authorities.

No one is coming for us

Army Special Forces Green Beret skiing
Soldiers of the 77th Special Forces Group are towed on skis during training at Camp Hale, Colorado, February 5, 1956.

A common thread among successive generations of Green Light teams was their distrust of leadership when it came to their specific mission.

“During training, the instructors had told us we had about 30 minutes to clear the blast radius of the device. We never really believed that,” a retired Special Forces operator who served on a Green Light team told Insider.

“In every other mission, teams would have an extraction plan. We didn’t. It was all up to us to get the hell out of dodge. But that’s not how the Army works. So that’s why we never really believed that we could get out alive in case we had to use one of those things. It was a one-way mission,” the retired Green Beret added.

There were Green Light teams forward-deployed in Europe – even in Berlin – always on standby to launch. Some Green Light teams even sought to forward deploy inside East Germany to be ready in case the Soviets unleashed their military on Western Europe.

Green Light teams also deployed to South Korea at different times and were on standby in case tensions with North Korea turned into war.

With the end of the Cold War, the Green Light teams were deactivated. They were never used in a real-world operation.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (National Service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

Norway Nazi Germany World War II WWII
  • In late February 1943, nine commandos set out of daring raid against the Germans in the Norwegian wilderness.
  • Their mission, to destroy a plant producing heavy water, would fulfill one of the Allies’ most important goals: Prevent the Nazis from building an atomic bomb.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

At 8:00 p.m. on February 27, 1943, nine Norwegian commandos trained by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) left their hideout in the Norwegian wilderness and skied several miles to Norsk Hydro’s Vemork hydroelectric power plant.

All the men knew about their mission was the objective: Destroy Vemork’s “heavy water” production capabilities.

Each man carried a cyanide capsule to take if they were captured and wore a British Army uniform so if they were killed and their bodies found, the Germans might spare the local civilians from reprisal killings.

Their mission would be one of the most successful in special-operations history, and it contributed to one of the Allies’ most important goals in World War II: Preventing Nazi Germany from developing nuclear weapons.

The race for an atomic bomb

Nazi Germany nuclear bomb weapons lab
The German experimental nuclear pile at Haigerloch, southwest of Stuttgart, being dismantled in April 1945.

Within months of the discovery of nuclear fission on December 17, 1938, the military potential of nuclear power became clear, and the race for an atomic weapon was on.

In April 1939, Germany started its nuclear-bomb effort, known informally as the Uranverein, or “uranium club.” It included some of the best scientists in the field, including the men who discovered nuclear fission and Nobel Prize-winner Werner Heisenberg.

During their research for a nuclear reactor, the scientists discovered that deuterium oxide, known commonly as “heavy water” because it has a heavier molecular weight than regular water, performed well as a moderator, enabling control over the fission process.

There was only one place in the world capable of producing heavy water on an industrial scale: Norsk Hydro’s Vemork hydroelectric power plant in southern Norway. The plant’s main purpose was to produce ammonia for nitrogen fertilizer; heavy water was actually a byproduct.

In January 1940, German officials asked to buy all of Norsk Hydro’s heavy water stock and if it was possible to increase the plant’s monthly output 10-fold to meet German demand.

This caught the attention of the French, who were experimenting with nuclear physics themselves and pursuing heavy water. Worried about German intentions, agents from the Deuxième Bureau, France’s military-intelligence agency, secured all of Norsk Hydro’s heavy water for France on March 9.

It was only a temporary setback for the Nazis. Exactly a month later, Germany invaded Norway and occupied it by early June. Vemork, now under German control, was forced to increase heavy-water production.

Operations Grouse and Freshman

Vemork Tinn Norway nuclear lab
The Vemork hydroelectric power plant, February 24, 2011.

The Allies, unaware of the German nuclear program’s progress, were increasingly worried that Germany may be ahead in the race. Vemork’s heavy-water production was known to be important to the program, and that alone was a good enough reason to take action against it.

Working with the Norwegian Resistance, the SOE created a plan for two teams to be dropped into Norway.

The first, codenamed Operation Grouse, was made up of four SOE-trained Norwegian commandos who would parachute into Norway, conduct reconnaissance, and secure a landing zone for a 34-man team of British commandos, codenamed Operation Freshman, who would land in two gliders and then assault the plant and destroy the 18 electrolysis cells that made heavy water.

On October 18, 1942, Grouse was launched. The team spent the next few weeks trekking to Freshman’s designated landing site, reaching it on November 9. On November 19, Operation Freshman was launched.

But Freshman was a colossal failure. Mechanical difficulties and bad weather caused one of the bombers and the glider it was towing to crash, killing the flight crew and a number of commandos. The second glider’s cable snapped when the bomber towing it aborted the mission, causing it to crash as well.

Survivors from both gliders were found by the Germans and executed as per Hitler’s Commando Order. Forty-one men were lost, security at Vemork was increased, and the Grouse team was stranded and had to fend for itself.

Operation Gunnerside

Norway Nazi Germany Norwegian Heavy Water Sabotage
A reconstruction of the Operation Gunnerside team planting explosives to destroy electrolysis chambers in the Vemork heavy-water plant.

Vemork was still a priority target for the Allies, and a new plan, with a stealthier approach, was developed.

A team of six Norwegian commandos would be dropped into Norway to link up with members of the Grouse team. They would infiltrate the plant, destroy the heavy-water production room with explosives, and escape into the night.

Codenamed Operation Gunnerside, the team parachuted into Norway on February 16, 1943, and linked up with the Grouse team on February 22. On the night of February 27, nine members from both teams set out for Vemork, with one member remaining behind to communicate with the British.

Upon arrival on the outskirts of the plant, they saw that the bridge, the only direct way into the complex, was heavily guarded.

The team had to descend a 328-foot cliff, cross a frozen river, then climb an almost 500-foot cliff before arriving at a fenced railway gate that led into the rear of the complex. They got there at 11:45 p.m. but had to wait for the guards to change shift, eventually cutting their way through the fence after midnight.

Once inside, the team split into two groups. Five commandos took covering positions outside the barracks, bridge, and main gate, while the other four entered the plant. Inside, they encountered only a Norwegian employee, who didn’t resist or raise the alarm.

Explosives were set in the target room, which was in the basement. The team evacuated and waited for the explosion. Because the room was so far underground and the walls were so thick, there was hardly any noise when the bombs went off, allowing the whole team to escape before the Germans found out what had happened.

Aftermath

Joachim Ronneberg Norway Gunnerside
Joachim Ronneberg, leader of Operation Gunnerside, at a ceremony in his honor in London, April 25, 2013. Ronneberg died in 2018.

The operation was a resounding success. The commandos destroyed the electrolysis cells and over 500 kg of heavy water. They managed to escape without firing a single shot or taking any casualties.

The Germans repaired the damage by May, but subsequent Allied air raids prevented full-scale production. Eventually, the Germans ceased all production of heavy water and tried to move the remaining supply to Germany.

In a last act of sabotage, a Norwegian team led by one of the Gunnerside commandos sank the ferry transporting the remaining heavy water on February 20, 1944, although at the cost of 14 Norwegian civilians.

The operations helped foil Germany’s nuclear ambitions, and the Nazis never built an atomic bomb or a nuclear reactor. Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in early May 1945, two months before the US’s bigger and better-resourced Manhattan Project tested the first nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945.

Read the original article on Business Insider